Did You Buy the Right Fishing License?

Author: NCWRC blogger/Thursday, January 6, 2022/Categories: Blog, Education, Fishing

Did You Buy the Right Fishing License?

NCWRC Staff Blog Post by Madeline David, Angler Engagement Coordinator

‘Can I fish here with this license?’ – It’s a question we hear regularly at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC). It’s not uncommon for anglers, especially novice fishermen and fisherwomen, to be concerned about the limitations of their license. Afterall, there’s several types of licenses available that determine where you can legally fish in our state.

Let’s break it down and clear up any confusion!

For starters, anyone 16 and older who goes fishing in North Carolina needs a license. There are few exceptions, like when fishing a privately-owned pond. They can be found here.

Here are the water designations you need to know before we get into the license types:

  • Inland = Freshwater (lakes, ponds, most rivers, streams and includes Public Mountain Trout Waters and trout waters on game lands)
  • Joint Waters = A mix of salt and fresh waters, sometimes referred to as ‘brackish’ waters (typically at the mouth of a river as it feeds into a sound or the Atlantic, sometimes entire sounds)
  • Coastal = Saltwater (most sounds or the Atlantic)

If you purchased an annual or lifetime fishing or combination hunting/fishing license that has the word ‘Unified’ in it, you are cleared to fish all of the above water designations.

If your license doesn’t have the word ‘Unified’ in it, then you’re going to be more limited in where you can fish. The good news is, both Inland and Coastal licenses at least cover Joint Waters.

Now you may be saying, ‘Okay, I’m not worried if I’m fishing in the middle of Charlotte. But what if I’m fishing around New Bern? How do I know when the water changes from Joint to Inland or Coastal?’

Short answer: Check the map. Our Fishing Access Map was made to help with these concerns! By zooming in closely on the area you’re fishing or planning to fish, red and blue boundaries indicate the type of water. Blue = saltwater, red = joint. Anything that doesn’t have a red or blue boundary is Inland. This video furthers demonstrates how to use the map.

All Inland fishing licenses cover Public Mountain Trout Waters and trout waters on game lands. These designations are also visible on the access map by zooming into the mountains region. Colorful lines will indicate the types of fishable trout waters (AKA, different regulations). Click on the lines to see what kind of waters it is or use the map legend. For more information on specific trout regulations, click here.

One more thing! Short-term (10-day) licenses cover either Inland or Coastal waters, with both covering Joint. There’s no such thing as a ‘Unified’ short-term license. If you want to fish Inland and Coastal waters for just 10 days at a time, you’ll have to buy both.

If at any time you’re fishing and unsure what the water designation is and don’t want to risk breaking the law, our Wildlife Law Enforcement Officers have one simple piece of advice: Play it safe. Meaning, don’t chance it.

If after reading this you’re thinking, “Well, shoot. I bought an annual Inland fishing license, but I want to fish on the coast, too. What do I do now?”

You can always buy an additional license after the fact.

For example, if you purchased a ‘State Inland Fishing’ license, you can purchase a ‘Coastal Recreational Fishing License’ to accompany your current license.

When you go to purchase your annual license next time around and want to do something that keeps you legal for all types of fishing, just look for the word ‘Unified.’ It’s your best bet!

For those interested in lifetime licenses, the NCWRC offers several options, including lifetime licenses at a discount for those who qualify. For the most part, these licenses are only available to residents of North Carolina, with a few exceptions. For more information on obtaining lifetime licenses, click here.

It’s also important to keep in mind that some towns, cities, counties and other agencies, like military bases, may require you to also purchase a license from them to fish their waters. This is in addition to your license from us and not a substitute for it. Be sure to check with them before you drop a line in!


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